The so-called immigration debate has descended into a caricature of a serious discussion on what is the best policy for our country. As demographers will tell you, America needs a steady influx of immigrants in this century in order to maintain our historically robust economy -- and pay for what will be the growing social cost as Baby Boomers retire.
That America's immigration system is dysfunctional is a widely accepted fact across the political spectrum. The tremendous angst of both proponents and opponents of comprehensive immigration reform -- expressed in everything from punitive measures such as Arizona's to the deep anxiety felt across both the legal and undocumented immigrant communities is palpable.
Moreover, the lack of a sensible policy is a serious risk to our national security.
As New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently said in critiquing the current policy, we are committing "national suicide". He added, "I can't think of any ways to destroy this country quite as direct and impactful as our [current] immigration policy". And further, that people advocating the deportation the 12 million undocumented workers were "living in a fantasy world."
None other than Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, who has joined Bloomberg in an effort to push for real immigration reform, said that "this country can and must enact new immigration policies that fulfill our employment needs, provide a careful pathway to legal status for undocumented residents, and end illegal immigration."
The demographic fate of countries like Japan and Russia, former global powers now threatened with depopulation and the accompanying economic shriveling that it entails, share the potential risks of many developed countries that, for historical and or cultural reasons, have been unable to attract immigrants.
The United States, by contrast, has a rich history as a welcoming nation. People from all over the world, many of them the most hard-working, entrepreneurial members of their own societies, look to a future in the United States as chance to raise their families in the land of liberty and opportunity.
The Trans-Continental railway system was built, in part, by the back-breaking labor of Chinese workers fleeing the slow-motion collapse of 19th century Imperial China.
The massive influx of Irish and Italian immigrants between the 19th and 20th centuries refreshed the country, while providing a much need expanded pool of workers to feed the growing economic power of America.
Scandinavians spread out across the formerly inhospitable cold lands of Minnesota and Wisconsin to create a network of farms that would eventually feed the world.
The stories of the contributions of immigrants to the fabric of America are myriad.
And although Latinos have been part of America since before 1776, the continued influx of immigrants, legal and undocumented, from Latin America is now being seen by some GOP politicians as an issue ripe for exploiting.
Serious people in the Republican party, people like Senators Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham, are openly discussing the possibility of amending the 14th Amendment of Constitution to effectively deny citizenship to babies born in the United States from undocumented mothers.
On the fringes of the anti-immigrant movement, the Tea Party and the Nativist wings of the GOP, there is a concept that is obsessing these obsessed people. They accuse Latin American women of purposefully coming to the United States to have "anchor babies", i.e., little American citizens that can then be used to bring a whole family into the U.S.
Ignoring the obvious fact of immigration law that minors cannot actually apply for their own parents to gain legal residency, these right-wing activist are nevertheless pushing to change our Constitution to fundamentally redefine citizenship in America.
While lunacy on the right and the left are as old as the Republic itself, not since the old Democratic Party of the South propagated and defended segregation has a mainstream party, in this case the Republican Party, lent itself to a cause so fraught with racist meaning.
The multi-century arrangement between a United States seeking cheap labor, and a Mexico seeking to export surplus workers, has been brilliantly analyzed by George Friedman in his recent piece "Arizona, Borderlands and U.S.-Mexican Relations" in Stratfor. Friedman writes:
The United States and Mexico both saw this [economic relationship] as mutually beneficial. From the American point of view, there was a perpetual shortage of low-cost, low-end labor in the region. From the Mexican point of view, Mexico had a population surplus that the Mexican economy could not readily metabolize. The inclination of the United States to pull labor north was thus matched by the inclination of Mexico to push that labor north.
The Mexican government built its social policy around the idea of exporting surplus labor -- and as important, using remittances from immigrants to stabilize the Mexican economy. The U.S. government, however, wanted an outcome that was illegal under U.S. law. At times, the federal government made exceptions to the law. When it lacked the political ability to change the law, the United States put limits on the resources needed to enforce the law. The rest of the country didn't notice this process while the former Mexican borderlands benefited from it economically. There were costs to the United States in this immigrant movement, in health care, education and other areas, but business interests saw these as minor costs while Washington saw them as costs to be borne by the states.
The demonization of immigrants, therefore, misses the point of what is an established economic relationship between two countries. The very idea of desperately poor women crossing the desert as part of a Machiavellian plot to create "'anchor babies" so that 18 years later they can bring the whole family to the U.S. is as risible as it is unsupported by objective data.
The GOP political leaders now jumping on the 14th Amendment bandwagon are demagoging an issue for short-term political gain. One has to assume that the 2010 midterms and the 2012 elections will be driven, on the Republican side, by the passion and energy of the Tea Party movement -- and the politicians are lining up to ride that wave.
Once again, Republicans are forgetting their own recent history. When California Governor Pete Wilson championed Proposition 187, which among other things sought to prohibit undocumented children from attending public schools, the effect was electrifying. Latinos across the state registered to vote and have now become a dependably Democratic, and an increasingly determinate force in state-wide politics.
The ongoing debate among Republicans to deny citizenship rights to, let's face it, a largely Latino population, is a disaster for the party. The Arizona experiment in regulating immigration has been a fiasco for Republicans. It has cemented the idea, in the minds of many Latinos across the country, that the GOP is actively antagonistic to Americans of Latino descent -- not to mention the undocumented migrants for whom there is tremendous sympathy.
The damage to the Republican brand among Latinos is already significant and growing. Further acts of irrational prejudice against Latinos will convert the nation's largest minority into a permanently dependable Democratic Party voting block.
And if that happens, you can just say adios to a national GOP. Just look at the demographics.